Melbourne’s Neon Queen are taking funk-infused hip hop to new heights with Livin/Breathin

Based out of Melbourne, alt pop band Neon Queen have no fear for dipping their toes into more sonic landscapes than you can poke a stick at. With a new single Livin/Breathin just out, the boys are looking forward into the next stage. They’re hip hop, they’re funk, they’re soul… Neon Queen truly are a bit of everything.

Having spent the past few years touring with some of the best bands in Australia, they’re hardly short of inspiration and leadership. We caught up with the band to get to know the boys behind the killer single and to chat those phenomenal support slots.

Of their music Neon Queen have revealed “Our ideal recipe is to have edge, soul, love, sex and most importantly make people dance and feel good”.

HAPPY: You guys have a really broad range of influences and genres mixed in with your sound. Tell me a bit about how you started integrating these and why you feel like this works for you?

NEON QUEEN: We’ve always grown up loving artists who screw with formulas and bring different worlds of music together. We’ve got a lot of credit to give to our parents because their tastes are so diverse with a mix of black and white artists. Growing up in a house where Prince, Michael Jackson and George Michael was blasted on repeat really shaped our sense of what pop music could be and should be. Prince was the most definitive influence on us, most importantly because he was the lens through which we would see rock music.

Electronic dance beats mixed with heavy metal, rock ‘n’ roll and funk was the perfect freakiness. That has always been exciting to us and has bled into our approach towards our music. Michael Jackson taught us about groove and disco while Georgie showcased soul and the power of a beautiful voice.

For our own music we like to treat the singing and rhythm section as the most important elements. Our singer Chris’s voice has such a unique range which can go from the silkiest falsetto in the vein of Maxwell and D’Angelo to the most passionate Marvin Gaye soul screams ever. It’s definitely part of our signature sound. His voice and range also allows us to experiment with different styles whether it be a heavy hip hop song or a R&B influenced slow jam. A heavy metal crowd and a hip hop crowd could still equally love it. Two of our biggest modern influences are Pharrell who is the king of genre mixing especially with N*E*R*D and Kendrick Lamar whose To Pimp A Butterfly album is the perfect mix of beats and live instrumentation.

HAPPY: You’ve toured with some pretty big acts; Sticky Fingers, The Vanns and The Lulu Raes… what do you think have been the biggest lessons you’ve taken from being a part of these shows?

NEON QUEEN: We’ve been really fortunate to be able to play with those bands, especially with our good mates Sticky Fingers. One of the most unique moments for us was supporting them at Festival Hall. Typically, you see a lot of support bands have a really similar sound to the headliner, although for us, we’ve grown accustomed to being the black sheep on a lineup. This is one of the main reasons why the crowd gave such a huge reception from the moment we played our opening track, because they had no idea what to expect. Probably the biggest thing we have learned is to embrace our own sound and realise that we are lucky enough to not have to stick to one style of music. It’s also really fun to be able to tour and have a hell of a time with your mates.

HAPPY: So with this single, Livin/Breathin, let’s talk about where the song came from and what it means to you?

NEON QUEEN: Livin/Breathin is an interesting song for us. It’s the first time we’ve delved into our R&B influences on record and is a more emotional track similar to our first track 5AM. The title comes from a really personal dark time for our singer and drummer, Oceans and Dench who are brothers. Their mother was involved in a near-fatal car crash after a drunk driver had stolen a car and driven on the wrong side of the road, colliding head on. The title Livin/Breathin is the feeling of waiting in the emergency room awaiting the news of life or death. The music to the song was flipped to have a more hopeful and relatable outlook of staying afloat and surviving in a world obsessed with money, sex and status.

HAPPY: You seem to have a pretty independent attitude, producing, recording, writing on your own… what is your take on the Australian music industry and what do you feel like you are gaining from taking on everything yourselves, as opposed to an alternate direction?

NEON QUEEN: From the first day we have always had a massive interest in making music independently. We believe in the idea of creative freedom, vision and the ability to make what we want, how we want. It allows us to create and go crazy with ideas that would probably be viewed as too risky or different if we were dependent on a label. We’ve all been deeply involved into every aspect of the band, from independently making ambitious ‘Neon Queen Universe’ music videos, to our look and how we promote ourselves. We see it as ‘who else would know how to show people what we’re all about better than ourselves?’.

We feel that the band is in a great place at the moment where we have accomplished a lot of achievements on our own strictly through word of mouth and our reputation as a really notorious live act. Not to mention that we’ve done all of this without radio play which could be another cool achievement to tick off our list. At this point the band is building and expanding its fanbase but obviously though as things get bigger we are definitely going to need some help down the track, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

As for the state of the Australian music industry, we think it’s really cool how bands are encouraged to tour and hit the road to make their money. We pride ourselves on being a hard working touring band which earns its money and audience’s respect. You can sound as perfect as you want on record but if we can’t hear those songs played live, and better… might as well just listen to your tunes at home for free. Straight up. In a way it’s forced artists to step up their live game and prove what they can do in the real world.

HAPPY: Can we expect a record sometime soon? It seems to have been single after single at this stage.

NEON QUEEN: We kinda like releasing singles at the moment because we get to tease people with the different directions that we throw at them. We’re currently working on our debut EP at the moment which is exciting but we can’t put a release date on it just yet because we want to have a really solid plan behind it. It’s going to showcase a cool mix of flavours and a lot of songs from our live set that our fans have been asking for. Most importantly it’s going to be a really cool introduction into our weird universe of pop music and a fresh Melbourne sound.

HAPPY: Tell me a bit about the story of the band and how you came to be?

NEON QUEEN: Most of us met in high school. It was a pretty strict Christian college where most of the people were serious churchgoers. Instead of playing songs about Jesus, we played covers of QOTSA, Kings of Leon and Deftones on weekends at a bar in Melbourne Fitzroy called The Cue Club. Ironically it’s now a posh cocktail joint called Naked for Satan. The band officially started when front man Oceans met guitarist Spall at the bar on its closing night after watching him perform the most outrageous solo of Van Halen’s Eruption. Ocean’s younger brother Dench was brought in on drums along with high school friend Karkz to eventually form the backbone of Neon Queen’s sound. Since then it’s truly been an exciting ride which has barely started.